Coaching legend Castle reloading at Lakeland

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Bill Castle is considered coaching royalty here. Under a pitiless, searing sun Tuesday afternoon, he is smiling as he walks off the field named after him.

"That was fun," he said following the sixth of Lakeland High's 15 spring football practices. "If you can't have fun today, you're in the wrong business."

Castle is wearing a faded orange baseball cap stained by years of sweat. Hard work is a requirement for any teenager who dons the black-and-orange jersey of the Lakeland Dreadnaughts.

During 32 seasons, Castle has transformed a sagging program from Polk County into a national powerhouse. His teams won three straight state titles (2004-2006), and last season the Dreadnaughts' state-record win streak was stopped at 53 games.

Each spring the Dreadnaughts are tagged with a catch phrase created by Castle.

"Last year it was 'no short cuts.' We were a young team and needed to learn," he said. "I always preach learning the right way and that's the attitude we needed to take.

"I'm not so sure about this spring, though."

"Work in progress" might be apt for Castle's 2008 squad as it nears the midway point of its spring schedule. With eight returning starters -- four on each side of the ball -- and a dearth of experienced offensive linemen, the Dreadnaughts are relishing this month.

"The expectations are always high around here," said Castle, who is 308-74 with six state championships during his tenure at Lakeland. "We're always built around speed, but as a coach you need to adapt to the personnel."

Castle won't stray from this coaching philosophy. That's why he was named Football Coach of the Century by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

He received the honor, which was part of the FHSAA's celebration of 100 years of Florida high school football, in December during halftime of the Class 5A final in Orlando. He says he was "stunned and humbled by [the] honor considering the other coaches who were mentioned."

"What they [FHSAA] didn't say [was] how much he cares about us; that's why he is a great coach," said Will Lucas, a rising junior linebacker.

For now, it's back to the drawing board.

Corey Swanson, a 6-3, 270-pound guard, is the lone returning starter along the offensive line. Swanson is getting interest from several programs but is waiting for Florida or Florida State to make an offer.

"This spring is about conditioning and playing in the heat," he said. "I need to know every play, every move the [running] back is going to make. I'm blocking for talented runners, but this year there are a lot of rookies [on the line]."

The backfield features veterans.

Led by rising junior quarterback Jarred Haggins (team-best 1,275 total offensive yards as a sophomore) and the McRoy brothers -- Javares (class of 2011) and Ben (2009), who are both running backs -- the split-veer option looks powerful.

Typically, the veer is a four-back attack. Haggins -- a long, rangy athlete -- is the firing pin. His moves shape the attack as he fakes the dive, looks for the pitch man or keeps the ball by using a one-on-one move against a lineman or linebacker.

"Read the linebacker or tackle and get outside," said Haggins, who netted 399 rushing yards and six touchdowns. "It's my job to break containment and make things happen."

If Haggins doesn't make things happen, the talented McRoy tandem will.

Javares, who had 28 carries for 414 yards (15.3 per carry) as a freshman, will get more, after leading rusher Jason Guzman (1,069 yards, six TDs) was dismissed from the school earlier this week. At the Class 4A track meet in April, Javares was fourth in the 100 meters (10.97 seconds).

Ben, who took third in the state's 200 meter event (21.45), added 379 rushing yards and three scores in 2008. His role will also expand next season.

"I know what to do; I don't want to let the team down," Ben McRoy said. "I'm learning to read my blocks."

The strength of Lakeland's attacking defense is the linebackers.

Jordan Jones (112 tackles, 52 unassisted), Quayshawn Nealy (112 tackles, 66 unassisted, two sacks) and Deonate Gary (71 tackles, 6.5 sacks) teamed for nearly 300 tackles.

Jones calls the defensive signals and realizes the linebackers will need to make plays until the rest of the unit catches up.

"I'll know the formations [of the opponents] and fill the gaps; we're fast and learning every day," Jones said.

The spring sessions conclude May 30 with a trip to Manatee (Bradenton) for an exhibition. Then it will be two months of weight training before camp opens on Aug. 11.

For the second time in three years, the Dreadnaughts play an out-of-state game. On Sept. 1, they will travel to Wheeling, W.Va., to take on Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), which was No. 11 in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 final rankings.

"It's a great opportunity for our players; we like playing schools from out of our area," said Castle, who brought his team to Cincinnati in 2006.

The Dreadnaughts, the favorites in District 8-5A after going 10-2 in 2007, will play a number of tough games -- including contests against Southern Florida schools Boyd Anderson (Lauderdale Lakes), South Dade and Miami Killian.

"It's hard to schedule games," Castle said. "No one wants to play us."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.